Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Allen's Supporting Cast

Buffalo Bills offense
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

We started this season focusing on three teams and their offensive lines, and now there is one left standing. The Patriots had the best offensive line I covered this season and Minnesota had the NFC's leading rusher, but only Buffalo has a game next week. The Bills' offensive line struggled through injuries and lineup shuffles throughout 2020 but was a pretty solid unit despite that. They never blew you away on the ground, but they did a good job of keeping their emerging star quarterback upright, and they enter the playoffs on an offensive roll after hanging half a hundred on a Dolphins team that was battling for a playoff spot.

Watching the game back, the thing that stood out was how good Josh Allen looked. I know this is supposed to be an offensive line-focused column, but Allen lit Miami up throwing it down the field early before being sat to rest once the game was out of reach (halftime). It was so impressive that I felt I should say something off the top. But it wasn't just Allen -- his guys up front did an outstanding job of handling Miami's pressure package and making it as easy as possible for the young quarterback.

This was the final touchdown of the first half and it's pretty to watch. I didn't time the GIF right, but Allen actually motioned Isaiah McKenzie (19) in from out wide to be an extra man in the protection. Kudos to Allen for seeing the zero blitz, and kudos to an undersized wide receiver for holding up enough in pass pro for the long touchdown. That's what winning football is, everyone doing whatever it takes to succeed.

McKenzie is the most impressive because he's the proverbial fish out of water, but this is an example of entire unit on the same page. The Bills are running some kind of BOB scheme (big on big), so the two guys they leave for the back (Zack Moss, 20) and wide receiver are both defensive backs to prevent a mismatch there. The tight end (Dawson Knox, 88) is on a linebacker. It's a hat on a hat and a lid for every pot. Everyone knows who they are working to and the whole thing is beautifully orchestrated. Absolute clinic tape.

From blocking a zero blitz for just long enough with a wide receiver to help, to blocking the four down guys forever, Buffalo did it all on Sunday. This is every bit as impressive as picking up that heavy blitz from the previous GIF. The guys that stand out to me as having difficult jobs are tackles Darryl Williams (75) and Dion Dawkins (73), who are both on an island and have to block for a very long time.

Dawkins actually makes his guy quit rushing halfway through because defenders are taught if you aren't going to get to the quarterback, stop and get your hands up, and his man knows early that he's not getting close to Allen. Neither Dawkins nor Williams is perfect from a technique standpoint (Williams is too straight-legged and Dawkins is leaning over his toes too much), but they both win with their hands. Both guys get two hands right on their defenders' breast plates and lock them out off the snap. You can do a lot wrong everywhere else if you land punches like they did here.

Even when Buffalo wasn't great, they were good enough. This is not how you want to pass off a twist on the left side of the line here. Left guard Ike Boettger (65) gets his hands knocked down at the snap and as a result isn't able to widen the defensive tackle at all. Dawkins at left tackle (73) is feeling for a twist, but if your guard doesn't knock the penetrator off course a little bit, it's tough to ever see that stunt. Because Dawkins never feels the stunt, it's incredibly difficult to come back inside on a defensive end (Andrew Van Ginkel, 43) who makes that violent of a move inside.

It's not pretty, but still, both guys stay engaged with their defenders. They run their feet and keep them from redirecting towards Allen when he moves in the pocket. It helps that the rest of the line for Buffalo is really stout so the quarterback can move around the trouble spot. There's something to be said for just staying in the fight on the left side once both looked like they were beat. And then that's a big-time throw from Allen again.

Looking forward to the postseason, omething that is a concern for Buffalo is that the running game just hasn't been consistent for much of the year. They have been solid in pass protection for the most part, but thoroughly average trying to run it. It's never awful enough to warrant a bunch of highlights of their misadventures but they haven't generated consistent movement all year.

The one thing I expect to see more of moving forward is the designed quarterback run and read game. Despite Allen's running ability, Buffalo hasn't gone to it too much during the regular season (mainly inside the 15 and on third downs from what I have seen). Using him more could open up a lot of space that their offensive line hasn't been able to create themselves. I get not wanting to run your quarterback too much during the season, but with every game becoming a must-win from here on out, there's not much use saving Allen for anything else.

Sunday was a bit of an aberration because they had the playoffs locked up, but the only run game reading from Allen was on RPOs where he was never going to be the runner.

One last note: moving forward this column will focus on the Bills until they're eliminated from the playoffs. I'll still do a final column on Buffalo for the following week when or if that happens, but after that I'll probably focus on the playoff line that looked like it had the most interesting week.


6 comments, Last at 09 Jan 2021, 12:44am

1 ‘fab’ Oline overview

Ben, great look at an undervalued piece of the Bill’s success.


There is a definitely a ying-yang between Allen’s rifle arm, 2020 improved accuracy on his 2nd and 3rd reads, and his ability to hit the entire route tree and the improved play of the big uglies. This year, his improved touch on the ball on short and intermediate is somewhat attributed to his incremental mechanical development this past off-season, but as or more important - the O Line’s play.  Nice examples! 

2 Nice write-up. This line is…

Nice write-up. This line is a good example to me of not being beasts, but being good enough when combined with Allen's mobility.The lack of space in the run game has bothered me all year, though, and I suspect it may come back to bite them at some point.

It's odd because they were so good at running last year, though they have had a bunch of injuries. It's also kind of a blemish that two guards they released/traded are starters elsewhere (and Teller is a key piece of one of the better running games in Cleveland), yet they ended up having to play the burnt corpse of Brian Winters way too much this year.

3 Great Breakdown

I appreciated your using name and number to identify the players every time.  Also, if part of the pass pro was BOB, does that mean the other part was SOS (small on small)?

4 2nd GIF

To me, what is equally impressive as the O-line's blocking is Allen's patience. He doesn't get run happy, he stays in the clean pocket, keeps light on his feet, goes through his progressions (probably twice--I mean, he has almost 5 seconds), and then makes a good throw. 

Otherwise, great write-up. Just as impressive as the work you wrote about.

5 How about a bit on Feliciano?

The line play seemed to improve a lot when he came back from IR. He was able to fill in when Morse got concussed, and he even started a game at center when Morse seemed to be healthy. I’d like to hear a bit about what, if anything, his presence changed.